Great Meetings

Four things to know before your next cross-cultural meeting

There was a time when meeting with international clients and partners meant a trip around the globe and, most likely, a serious case of jetlag. These days, international videoconferences and Skype meetings are more the norm. But while there may be less travel involved, there are still frustrations and potential pitfalls that come with scheduling a meeting across cultures and timezones. Here at Doodle, we’ve solved the most pressing problem – finding a suitable time to meet (while avoiding the need to manage time zones).. When you launch a Doodle poll, Doodle automatically sets the correct time zone for everyone. Easy!

With that out of the way, you’re free to focus on have a great meeting (and avoiding any potential misunderstandings). Understanding international meeting etiquette is key to maintaining good relationships with your international clients, partners, and stakeholders – and to making the most of the meetings you have together. Here are four things you need to know about meeting culture worldwide.

Timing is Key

Different time zones may not be the only issue you need to take into account when scheduling an international meeting. For one thing, you’ll want to make sure that any meeting arrangements you make with colleagues or clients in France and Italy don’t cut into lunch. Forget lunch ‘al desko’: in these countries a two-hour lunch break is standard and many workers go home or to a local restaurant to savor their midday meal. The same goes in Spain, where many people still observe the traditional siesta from 2pm. Punctuality differs from country to country, too. While it’s always a good rule of thumb to arrive (or log on, as the case may be) to meeting with 5 minutes to spare, you might want to allow yourself ten minutes if you’re talking with colleagues in ultra-punctual Switzerland – we’re talking about the country that perfected clockwork, after all. Similarly, don’t expect a meeting in Japan to run late: a recent survey found the Japanese not only produce the most detailed meeting agendas, but they stick to them precisely.

Smalltalk: Do or Don’t?

Among english-speakers, a smattering of small talk at the start of a meeting is seen as a pleasant and friendly way to ease into talking business. And if you’re meeting with Latin Americans, be prepared to spend the first few minutes of the meeting chatting about football, family, and other innocuous topics. But remark on the weather to someone from Sweden and you can expect to be met with incomprehension. Scandinavians tend to see small-talk as a waste of time and appreciate getting straight down to business.

Sparking dialogue

In countries like the U.S.A and Australia, meetings are often characterized by lively debate and intensive brainstorming. But if you expect that kind of dialogue from colleagues in China, be prepared to draw them out. In Chinese meetings, it’s disrespectful to interrupt the person leading the meeting, unless you’re explicitly asked for your opinion. Cross-cultural business coach Erin Meyer advises politely inviting those who are quiet to speak, and going round the table for feedback at the meeting’s conclusion. Conversely, try not to interrupt colleagues from China when they’re leading a meeting – while you might think you’re providing timely input, your Chinese colleagues might peg you as a poor listener.


In Germany and the Netherlands, your brilliant ideas might be met with a cool reception. Don’t be put off: that doesn’t mean they’re not any good. It’s just that your colleagues and clients from these countries are far less likely to give non-verbal feedback, like smiling or nodding. On the other hand, when it comes time for verbal feedback expect a full and frank discussion. In the Netherlands, giving comprehensive feedback is considered a mark of respect. So make sure your feedback is equally thorough – it shows you take your partners and their ideas seriously.

With a meeting time that works across time zones and a little attention to detail when it comes to international business etiquette, we’re sure your next cross-cultural meeting will run smoothly!

By Jessica Miller

Jessica Miller is an Australian writer currently based in Berlin.

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